I, Photographer: Inside Real Estate
David Paler shoots multimillion-dollar apartments inside and out.
How did you get started?
I was a location scout for Law & Order for nine months, then I worked for IN New York magazine shooting restaurants. The magazine got calls for my interior shots, and I started cold-calling interior designers and got referrals.
Who do you work for now?
I’m an approved vendor for several high-end residential real estate companies and developers, and for commercial real estate companies. You develop a relationship with brokers. Only pro interior photographers at my level work with expensive properties—there are 8 to 10 of us in the city.
How many apartments do you shoot a month?
About 60—I try not to shoot more than three or four a day. Some photographers use a wide-angle lens, stand in the corner, and are out in 15 minutes. But I’ll spend an hour or more.
How is real estate different from other interior photography?
As with good interior photography, you need to understand angles and light, how to shoot in mixed lighting, and when to shoot wide or narrow. But you also have to know what buyers are interested in and how to show it—what counters are made of, or any high-end appliances. You need to know which way the apartment faces to know what time of day and how to capture a window view.
How do you prepare the space?
I have to move chairs around and pull the blinds to hide scaffolding. I’ll ask beforehand about the apartment’s size and direction it faces, but each is still a challenge.
How has your work changed?
Photography has become more important with the switch from print classifieds to internet ads. The housing downturn hasn’t affected my work—in Manhattan, people are always moving.
What gear do you use?
I use a Nikon D3X. My main lens is a 14–24mm f/2.8 Nikkor set at around 24mm, or else a 24–70mm f/2.8 Nikkor. I use a Nikon SB-900 Speedlight and four SB-800s with diffusers on stands throughout the room, and a Quantum T5D flash. But it’s best to use a mix of flash and available light.
What about postproduction?
I don’t use a tilt-shift lens, so I control perspective in Adobe Photoshop CS5. I shoot RAW to combine natural and artificial light or bracketed exposures. I’ll make fixes such as digitally finish a half-painted wall. But you can’t create false advertising—you don’t want the buyers to feel disappointed when they arrive.
What’s the best part of the job?
I see amazing apartments. And art—I’ve seen a lot of Picassos.